Those of you who have attended my small-group writing retreats know that we spend precious little time brainstorming premises. Since I ask everyone to send me their work-in-progress before the retreat begins, I assume everyone already has an idea and wants some input on how to make it better. But doesn’t that mean I’m overlooking something important? Doesn’t that mean I’ve skipped Square One?
No. Here’s the truth. Ideas are everywhere, and most of them are variations on themes that have been around much longer than we have. One of the great benefits of maintaining a regular writing schedule is that, once your subconscious knows you’re going to be writing every day, it keeps an eye out for stuff to write about. You can’t browse through bookstore, or see a film, or read a newspaper, or even walk down the street without being bombarded with ideas. Most professional writers have far more ideas than they could ever write. When it comes time to start a new book, they have to sift the wheat from the chaff and pick the one (or combine several) to write.
Here’s another truth: If you look at the breakout hits, or the books on the bestseller lists, you’ll mostly see books of excellent quality. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the core idea is breathtakingly original. You’ll find mysteries, thrillers, romances, historical melodramas–variations on established themes. I hope the characters seem fresh and the situations aren’t hackneyed…but there will always be a core of familiarity. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because part of the reason people read fiction, and particularly genre fiction, is because it’s comfortable. Readers hope you bring energy and excitement to it, but they don’t necessarily expect, or even want, you to reinvent the wheel.
If that’s true, you may be wondering, how do I make my book stand out? How do I make it catch the eye of an agent or editor? This is what I map out in my book Promising Premise. You take your core idea and build it into something wonderful. Here’s that book’s must-have list:
And if you don’t know what I mean by all those…what can I say? Go get the book.
And if you’ve done all that and you’re still not selling…it’s not the idea, it’s the writing. May I direct you to Sizzling Style?